The Last Original
(Originally posted July 31, 2013)
By Dennis D’Agostino
The passing of Ossie Schectman at age 94 severed the last living thread between the Knickerbockers and their inaugural 1946-47 team. Ossie, the captain of that very first Knicks team, had been its lone survivor (an Original Knick teammate, future sportscaster Bud Palmer, passed away earlier this year on March 19).
Ossie, whose 54 games and 8.1 scoring average that first year comprised his entire NBA career, fit the mold of most on that first-year Knicks squad. He was a New York City product (out of Tilden High School and Long Island University), a local star as well as an All-American, and was a newly-minted World War II veteran. When that first training camp opened at Bear Mountain, he was already one of the oldest players on the squad at 27.
Schectman --- whose last name mysteriously read “Shechtman” in the Knicks’ first-ever media guide --- will always have a unique place not only in the history of the team, but that of the entire league as well. Of the thousands of players who have passed through the NBA in 67 seasons, Ossie was the first --- the very first --- to score a point.
That came on a fast break layup in the opening moments of the first game in the history of the Basketball Association of America (as the NBA was known prior to 1949), the Knicks’ 68-66 win over the Toronto Huskies at Maple Leaf Gardens on November 1, 1946. Ossie scored 11 points in that first game, including the two that started it all.
A prideful Schectman laid dogged claim to those two points for the nearly three-quarters-of-a-century that followed, and it quickly became part of NBA legend. Of course, there were no such things as play-by-play sheets back in those days, no formal documentation, so those first two points always carried an air of mystery about them. But the grainy black-and-white film that survives from that first night in Toronto does seem to bear him out. That’s Ossie, old number 6 in blue and orange, barreling in for two soon after the opening tap.
Ossie (born Benjamin) became part of another oft-told tale from the first season when he suffered a hemorrhage during a late-season trip to Chicago. With their captain hospitalized, the Knicks moved on while team president Ned Irish arranged to have Ossie’s wife Evelyn flown out to the Windy City to tend to her husband, all expenses paid.
It was his wife’s passing last year that triggered Schectman’s move from his longtime Florida home to suburban Westchester, in order to be near his son and family. Through all the years, Ossie was one of the game’s great ambassadors. In Florida, he anchored the large group of hoop oldsters-turned-snowbirds who would meet regularly for corned beef and war stories. Upon his return to New York, he became one of the Knicks’ biggest fans and rarely missed a moment of last year’s 54-win season on television.
Ossie was the oldest living Knick, an honor now held by 90-year old Dick Shrider, the Ohio product who played four games in 1948-49. Big Apple legend Ray Lumpp, a longtime Knick and 1948 Olympic gold medalist, is 90 as well, four months younger than Shrider.
Ironically, Schectman’s passing came exactly 67 years to the day after he signed his first Knicks contract on July 30, 1946. Few held a place in Knicks history more treasured and more unique. In so many ways, he was The Last Original.